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A New Martian Hope? Inflatable Heat Shield Could Help Land Men On Mars

17 Aug 2009, 17:23 UTC
A New Martian Hope? Inflatable Heat Shield Could Help Land Men On Mars
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Image: NASA engineers check out the Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE) in the lab. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
Despite their track record with deploying rovers and a lander upon the red planet, NASA admitted a few years ago that they lacked the technology to land humans on Mars.
Now it looks as if some new technology could enable humans to visit that crimson world without smashing into the surface.
(NASA & NASA IRVE) A successful NASA flight test has shown that a spacecraft returning to Earth can use an inflatable heat shield to slow and protect itself as it enters the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. This was the first time anyone has successfully flown an inflatable reentry capsule, according to engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center.
The Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment, or IRVE, was vacuum-packed into a 15-inch diameter payload “shroud” and launched on a small sounding rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. Nitrogen inflated the 10-foot (3 m) diameter heat shield, made of several layers of silicone-coated industrial fabric, to a mushroom shape in space several minutes after liftoff.
“This was a huge success,” said Mary Beth Wusk, IRVE project manager, based at Langley. “IRVE was ...

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